Just over two years ago I went on trial for my ex sexually assaulting me continually in the last 9 months of our marriage. Yes I was on trial, or at least that is how it played out in Court. My words and my actions were scrutinized under a microscope for all to see while my ex sat there.
The last nine months of my marriage were the worst. I had stood up to my abusive ex and told him he was no longer welcome in our marriage bed, that our marriage was over. He said he had no place to go so he moved into our family room in the basement. It was then that I kept catching in him, in his underwear, in my youngest daughters bed. My gut told me that this was beyond wrong so with everything in me I stood up to him and told him again, No More! No more sleeping in our daughters bed. He exploded and started yelling at me. I shook like a leaf inside, but held my ground on the outside. I looked him firmly in the eyes and said, “No More.”
The next day he came up to my room in the early morning hours and raped me. This continued weekly over the next nine months. I lived in terror and was barely coping on the inside, but on the outside I did my best to still be a mom, go to work and quietly figure out how I was going to get out of this marriage safely. I led a double life. In front of my ex I was complacent, unless I saw him hurt one of our children, then something would break in me and I would become so protective, telling him to go away, to leave us alone, but he wouldn’t leave. So I continued to play the good wife on the outside, making supper, getting kids to daycare and going to my job. I could no longer sleep and I could no longer eat. I lost so much weight. Soon there was nothing left of me.
Then one night it was over. He admitted to the rapes. He stood at the sink doing the dishes before his aunt and uncle came over. He admitted that he knew exactly what he was doing to me, that he knew he was hurting me. Up until that point, I believe to protect my own sanity, I had somehow believed that he did not know what he was doing, that he was “out of control” with his actions and that he really did not mean to hurt me this way. That night though, that night that bubble burst and I started to scream blood curdling screams that it was over. All over. The next day he moved out.
After he left I pushed all he had done way down deep inside of me. I had to focus on my kids. I had to help them heal. So I took them to counselling appointments, I met with teachers and I just kept going. My pain, to me, was irrelevant. I would deal with it someday but today was not the day.
I lived that way for two years. I even did my own one on one counselling and went to group therapy but I could not get the words out of my mouth that he had raped me over and over. Then one day I did, near the end of a group therapy session, I looked at the ceiling, then at the floor, but not at anyone’s face and I shared that my ex had raped me many times. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. The pain was just too much. The group listened and was supportive and they encouraged me to go forward to the Police. I let that idea sit with me. I had been through the Court system before when he physically assaulted myself and our toddler son. Could I handle going through that again? This would be so much more personal? Could I do it? Then one day a calm came over me and I knew that I had to come forward. So I did and my ex was arrested.
The next few years involved Court delays, done by my ex, but eventually we did have a hearing. I testified for six hours. I was so exhausted, but overall it went ok. The Defense tried to trip me up, but I stayed on course. I was prepared for the fact that they would play games and I held my head high. The Defence even had my ex sit in a seat where I had to walk past him to get to the stand. I actually had to step over his feet and I knew this was done just to try and intimidate me. I did not let this falter me and I told the truth of what happened. Per the Judge there was enough evidence to go to Trial. A date was set and a year later the Trial began.
I arrived at the Court House with my now husband. We went through security and then saw on the notice boards that our Court room was upstairs. The Defense had decided to go with a Jury Trial. I was warned ahead of time that the Court House would be busy with many people being called to possibly be on the Jury. We came up the stairs and across the room I saw him; my ex, his mother and another woman whom I assumed (and was later confirmed) was his girlfriend. There were at least 30-40 people waiting to go through Jury selection. I found my Victims Services Worker and was shown into a room. The room had windows to the hallway. As everyone was called into the Court room his girlfriend walked by and glared at me. I held her gaze, I had no intention to be intimidated when I knew I was telling the truth. I waited in the small room, as a witness to the crime I was not allowed to be in the room when Jury selection was going on, but he being the one on trial had the right to be there for every process.
It did not take long and soon a Jury was chosen. I was told that I would be called in soon. I took a deep breath and when I was called I walked into the Court room with my head held high. Again I had to walk right past him, this time he was in a separate box so there was no stepping over feet, but he was right there as I walked past. I also walked right past his mother and his girlfriend. My support was seated on the other side of the Court room. The Defense Lawyer and the Prosecutor both stood at their respective tables. Soon we all rose and the Judge came in. He then had the Jury stand. I looked at all of them. Soon the Jury was dismissed and I was too.
Soon I was called back into the Court room and again I had to walk past my ex. As I got up on the stand I noticed he was not wearing his false teeth and he was slouching as he sat, looking very meek and sad. Very different from who he really is. He is really over 6ft and broad shoulders. I assumed this meek posture was a tactic suggested by the Defense to make him look weaker to the Jury rather than the predator I knew he could be. I wanted to scream that his appearance was a lie, that this was all just part of the game to get him off on the charges! Could I say that? I was really only there to answer questions, correct?
I was on the stand for two days. First the Prosecutor questioned me. He had slightly prepared me for his questions. I calmly relayed what had happened the first time he raped me. That he had come running up the stairs in early morning, that I thought he was going out on a call as a First Responder because he sounded to be in such a rush. Instead though he came running into our room, locked the door, lay on top of me and forced himself on me. I told how I couldn’t scream because I was in so much shock that this was actually happening. My own husband, the one who was to protect me was hurting me in the one of the worst ways possible. I went numb. When it was over he sat on the end of the bed and called me horrible names, like Whore, Bitch and Slut. Again I was in too much shock to move or speak. Then I heard our toddler son get up across the hall and that seemed to snap me back to reality. I did not want my children to know what had happened, I wanted everything to be as normal as possible. I think there was a huge amount of disbelief from me that this had actually happened. Instead, like so many who go into shock I did something random and normal, I got up and made breakfast for my children. Doing any different would have shattered me at that moment.
Then it was the Defenses turn. He reviewed the details with me and I stayed alert to the fact I knew he would try to trip me up. I was determined to not let that happen. He asked me what I was wearing when my ex entered the bedroom. I knew that what I was wearing had absolutely nothing to do with why he raped me so I responded that he was wearing only his underwear. Since him raping me happened more than once in the early hours he questioned me over and over why I did not lock the bedroom door. I explained that I was afraid of him and so were my children and I was not going to lock my children out of my room which was a safe place for them. I took the risk of being hurt again, but I wanted to be able to protect my children if they needed me. That wasn’t enough though, over and over the Defense asked me why I did not lock the bedroom door. It was clear victim blaming, that somehow I was at fault for him raping me because I did not lock the bedroom door. I was grilled as to why it took me two years to report the rapes. That I must be making it up because if it had really happened then I would have sought help right away. Again victim blaming with no explanation on how trauma works, given to the Jury. In fact the Prosecutor did not bring any other witnesses forward. No Professionals to explain how a rape Survivor can react, no education and none of the Professionals that had been treating me. I did my best to explain trauma, that sometimes something is so painful that we push it away to cope and when our whole being believes we are strong enough to deal with it we will talk about it. I explained how the first two years were just about getting my kids through each day. Somehow that was not enough. The Defense twisted things and said I waited two years because I was in the middle of Family Law proceedings trying to gain sole custody of my kids. That I went to the Police about these made up assaults to make it that my ex would have no access to the kids while these charges were sorted out. In reality I came forward when I was ready having no idea ahead of time how that would affect his visitation. Again though I was spun to be a vindictive ex wife to the Jury. Then the Defense brought forth their knowledge of my blogs and said I only wrote it to continue to be a victim. The Defense even tried finishing his questioning by saying “I am Janet, I am victim hear me Roar!” I responded, “No I am Janet, I am a Survivor!”
I was grilled about everything I had done or said since my ex and I separated. My character was put on trial. Unfortunately I later learned that this is very common in Sexual Assault Trials, the victim is put on trial for what they did and the perpetrator is barely looked at. It was that case as well. When it was time for my ex to go on the stand he was on it for about 10 minutes. He was asked what our marriage was like. He responded that our marriage was that “what Janet wanted Janet got”. Up to that point I had had my head down so that I did not have to look at him, but when he said that my head shot up and we locked eyes for just a moment. I looked at him with a look telling him that I knew he was lying. That our marriage was anything but that. That there had been so many times I wanted to socialize with friends, have people over or go out with him, but there was always an excuse, a reason why I had to stay home. That I was not allowed to go out anywhere, that I was isolated. He knew he was lying too because when we locked eyes he quickly looked to the ground in defeat. He was maybe asked 5 questions, whereas I was on the stand for two days. Does that seem right? He was the one who committed the crimes yet he was barely examined.
There are so many short falls in our Court System. I quickly learned that it is a Legal System to carry out laws, not a Justice System. There was no Justice in what I went through. Sadly this is the case for so many in a Sexual Assault Trial. I felt completely unprepared for what was going to happen to me in that Court Room. The only warning that the Prosecutor gave me was that the Defence may not be nice, but it is not personal, they are just there to do a job. I was not prepared for the trauma the Defence would cause with their insinuations that I was the abusive one and that I was a liar. I wasn’t prepared for the Defence to laugh to themselves, almost patting themselves on the back for their latest dig to me, when their back was turned to the jury. I was prepared for the Judge to watch all of this and say nothing. I was prepared to feel abandoned by our Legal System.
In the end the verdict came back as “Not Guilty”. The Judge said, as I cried, that it was not a case where I was not believed, but that there was just not enough evidence. Being it was a sexual assault it was a “He said, She said” case given there were no witnesses.
That night I had a complete breakdown. My husband and I went to a lounge to debrief. I tried to relax, but could not. After we left my husband had to stop in at a Convenience Store. I sat in our car and waited listening to music. It was then that I cracked; I cranked the music and sobbed uncontrollably. All of the pain came out, the betrayal that I felt by the Courts and by his family for not standing by me when I told the truth. Truth about the long time abuse in our home. Things that they saw or heard. I was crushed.
The trial is still hard to think about, but it no longer weighs on me like it did. There are times where intimacy still frightens me, but I have a loving husband now who is patient and kind. And sometimes I still sleep at night with a pile of clothes on just to feel safe and I lay in the fetal position with my arms crossed across my chest just to “protect” myself. It is what I need to do to get through the tough moments.
I hope, that in time, our Justice system will change in regard to Sexual Assaults. The victim should never be the one on trial. Their actions pre and post a rape should not be used as evidence as to whether the assault took place. The perpetrators actions are the ones that need to be scrutinized. They need to be the ones being questioned for two days, not for five minutes. Only then, I think, will we start to see more appropriate verdicts in sexual assaults trials. Until then my heart goes out to every sexual assault victim.